Andrew Hill at the FT wrote an interesting column last week about “Purpose”. As he pointed out, it has become quite a buzzword in CEO circles. Ellen Kullman, CEO at Dupont wasn’t the only CEO to use it at the recent World Economic Forum. It seems it is a word increasingly deployed to gain back the public’s trust, especially at banks. Do employees strive for purpose? The column by Mr. Hill is well written as always, but it misses a crucial point.

It’s not about each employee having a purpose to their work in isolation. No, the research on “purpose” confirms that employees are motivated by having a purpose to their task, but only when they understand the context. They need to understand how their task fits in with the big picture. That context piece is vital. It is the alignment of all those tiny tasks with the company’s big audacious goals that gives the purpose. Leaders need to reconcile how each task fits into the big picture to give the employee a sense of meaning and purpose.

In a practical sense the best way to achieve this is quite simple. Rip up your old job specifications. Create new performance profiles of every job detailing the expectations in terms of performance expected. Explain in the first paragraph of the profile how the role connects with the big goals of the company, and explain how this role aligns with the business results that the company promises to deliver.

Refresh roles to ensure they are aligned to the objectives of the company e.g. it should be myopically clear to the sales professional why her sales scripts connect with the core purpose of the company. Or if you like, the company’s messaging, core values, key promises to customers should be translated into a narrative that a sales professional could use when diagnosing prospects.

Educate all staff on your company’s compelling story, turning it into an evangelistic message. Prospective candidates for open positions love to hear your story. Passion is infectious. But you need to link the story to each job. Put the job in context.

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